Mental imagery and the conceptual-perceptual dynamics of the interpretation of poetic metaphor

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Relevance theory argues that metaphor is processed in fundamentally the same way as other uses of language. It involves the construction of an ad hoc concept, the denotation of which partially overlaps that of the encoded concept (Carston 2010a; Sperber and Wilson 2008). This occasion-specific concept gives access to conceptual representations, which achieve optimal relevance by yielding positive cognitive effects. According to relevance theory, the poetic effects of metaphors are the results of making manifest a wide range of weakly communicated implicatures. Meanwhile, there is an intuitive thought that our experience of poetic metaphors is not exactly the same as that of daily conversations. The former is often reported to be accompanied by non-propositional effects through the use of emotions, mental images, impressions or other sensations (Wilson and Carston 2019).
This work seeks to develop the current propositional view of metaphor by proposing a dual- route processing mechanism underlying the experience of poetic metaphors. It is inspired by and largely built around relevance theory’s cognitive approach to utterance interpretation (Sperber and Wilson 1986/1995), while drawing inspiration from research on grounded cognition (Barsalou 1999; Damasio 1994). It explores mental imagery, which involves mental representations with quasi-perceptual properties constructed without direct external stimuli. The effects brought by imagery, though genuine and powerful, have been considered to fall outside the scope of pragmatics, because imagery is not communicated but activated or triggered (Carston 2010b). In contrast to this view, I argue that a metaphoric interpretation may not be completely free from the perceptual dimension. Imagery directs the hearer’s attention towards certain aspects of the metaphor, giving rise to positive cognitive and perceptual/affective effects that allow the hearer to better gauge the overall relevance. Imagery ‘points to’ constituents from memory and bodily experience that perceptually resembles the sensory inputs from the represented object, and therefore contributes to an understanding of what the speaker intends to convey. The overarching purpose is to highlight the role of non-propositionality in cognition and communication, and by doing so to expand the scope of pragmatic theory.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2 Mar 2023
EventPostgraduate Workshop in Pragmatics - Library of the School of Philosophy Auditorium, Athens, Greece
Duration: 2 Mar 2023 → …


WorkshopPostgraduate Workshop in Pragmatics
Period2/03/23 → …
Internet address


  • Pragmatics
  • Metaphor
  • Mental imagery
  • Cognition


Dive into the research topics of 'Mental imagery and the conceptual-perceptual dynamics of the interpretation of poetic metaphor'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this